Today we have the pleasure of having Josh Muskin guest post to discuss why he believes CrossFit for endurance athletes is a great combination!

“Opposites attract” – Ancient Philosopher (probably)

It’s a phrase we often hear, typically used to describe couples and relationships. The tall guy dates the short girl, the sports fanatic dates the passionate reader, the list goes on.

This is also something, however, that can be applied to fitness. Specifically when we talk about endurance athletes.

Last fall I completed a full distance Ironman race on 1 year of training. Prior to that, I had done nothing but CrossFit for about 5 years. When designing my own Ironman training plan, I made it a priority to keep CrossFit as a part of my regimen and the benefits of doing so were apparent.

These are the 2 major takeaways from my experiences throughout training.

Injuries are preventable

2 out of every 3 runners get injured every year.

Most of these injuries are not simply ‘accidents’ like stepping on a rock and rolling your ankle. Most of them, are the result of hours of high impact activity (such as running) on joints who’s stabilization muscles are simply too weak to keep them in proper position.

Consider this: the average person will take somewhere between 1200-1600 steps per mile (600-800 per leg) and each step carries a load of between 1.5-3x body weight. That means a 175lb male, over 1600 steps is doing a single leg quarter squat with up to 525lbs.

Sounds a lot harder than “running a mile” doesn’t it?

Part of the reason so many injuries occur with runners is that their bodies are simply not prepared for that type of impact, and when you add in things like changing terrain, hills, slopes, potholes, etc. well, you can see how things only get more difficult.

How CrossFit can help you avoid running injuries

  • You’ll get stronger – Strength creates stability in your crucial joints (knees, hips, etc). That stability and increased muscular endurance of your stabilization muscles, can hold your critical joints in proper alignment, longer. Allowing you to run further, safer.
  • You’ll become more flexible – The movements in CrossFit require you to work towards proficiency in full range of motion. It’s not uncommon to hear of runners avoiding squatting (particularly below parallel). Squatting to such a depth can help elongate hip adductors, hamstrings, and relieve tension in the SI joint (psoas, hip flexors, etc.). All of which are common injury locations for avid runners.
  • You’ll gain core stability – The importance of moving under load with a tight and stable core is paramount for safety. This is also something that is usually not associated with running. Runners will loosen their abdomens, putting the lower back and hips at risk of misalignment, simply because they’re not yet trained to focus on their core and/or lack the awareness/ability to activate it in the first place. A tight core = good posture and good posture = less potential for injury.

Strength equals speed

One of the most common objections I hear when suggesting CrossFit for endurance athletes goes something like “It’ll make me too bulky and slow me down!”.

We’ve already discussed how added strength can build stability for your critical joints, and stability can reduce injury. Running uninjured certainly won’t slow you down.

The real reason strength = speed though, is the simple fact that with each step, you’re pushing your body forward, away from the ground, propelling yourself forward.

The more strength and muscular endurance you have, the harder that push can be. Therefore, the further you can propel yourself with the same number of steps.

Keeping the same cadence, you can take seconds off of your mile time, simply by having your natural stride lengthened. Same number of steps, more distance.

How CrossFit can help you run faster

  • You’ll build explosive power – Movements like box jumps and jump rope help to train the body to explode through the lower extremities. All relevant movement patterns to running.
  • You’ll gain muscular endurance of the lower body – High rep and high intensity workouts will help those smaller muscles (like your calves) hold their strength longer in your runs. More endurance of the muscles that generate that last push of explosive power in each step, equals a longer stride for a longer time period.
  • You’ll gain comfort at high heart rates – Heart rate spikes when running hills, or simply for long time periods, are the reason many runners race forced to slow down. By CrossFit’s very nature, you’ll grow accustom to remaining calm with higher heart rates, allowing you to transfer that skill/comfort to your long, hilly runs.

Endurance athletes need strength training

Runners, bikers, swimmers, and the like, don’t need to break world power lifting records. They don’t need to back squat 11 times a week. They don’t need to deadlift 800lbs.

But that’s not what we’re talking about here.

Endurance athletes need strength training to help keep their joints safe, their strides long, and their recovery short.

CrossFit offers many advantages over hitting your local globo-gym in that it provides structure. Someone will be there to coach you through these movements safely and teach you how to slowly ramp up over time. It’s also nice as an athlete used to hitting 1+hour workouts, to experience some short and intense workouts to add variety to their training.

Ultimately, it all comes down to safety, speed, and training variety. Something everyone can get behind.